As an avid NFL Football Fan ever since I can remember Sunday in our house was all about football. It was a sport that had become a tradition even before the NFL became the number one sports brand in the country.
In the 60s it was Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, Chevrolet, and Baseball. Then the NFL and the AFL became one and the Super Bowl changed everything. Since the late 70’s the number one sports brand was the NFL. It became a giant icon for gladiator entertainment launching athletic brands, networks, and super stadiums become entertainment forums we all flocked to.
The NFL Commissioner has become even more powerful than most CEOs. The team owners are now billionaires making super athletes multi-millionaires. The price of tickets is a reflection of a teams roster. Networks pay for the right to make the games available for fans for a price. The NFL brand may be the most powerful brand in the USA. The sky was the limit for NFL brands growth with a strategy focused on growing the NFL brand into a worldwide entertainment brand. The future of the NFL and its owners and players were looking brighter with each new season.
But on September 22, 2017, that all changed. One part of a speech given in Huntsville, Alabama by the President of the United States bated the NFL owners into making the biggest brand crises it had ever seen. “Wouldn’t you love to see one these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out, he’s fired.'” — President Trump.
Then week three of the NFL, September 24, two days after the President’s speech the owners made an emotional response. Across the league, all teams kneeled or didn’t come out of the locker room for the national anthem or salute the flag. At that moment the seemingly powerful NFL brand lost its biggest asset. It ignored it’s most loyal and the heart of its brand, the average American worker. Ask any CEO of a large company what the quickest way to kill a brand. They will tell you, to ignore or disrespect the core customer. We all have watched the death of powerful brands we thought would never die.
Who is that core, customer? It’s the Buffalo Wild Wings, Tailgating Drink a Bud, Three Quarter Ton Pickup Truck Flag Waving Fans. Just drive twenty miles or so outside of any major city, you’ll see the flag on porches, trucks, T-shirts, painted on sides of barns etc. It is an icon to them that salutes freedom. It is their symbol that reminds them why they work for less pay, long hours, sell their harvest for less than a fair price to help feed America and keep America moving all in the name of patriotism.
They believe in the First Amendment Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. From what I have read, these fans don’t have a problem with the ideology of the protest. But they have a big problem using the media format to snub their icon that represents the heart of America’s soul, The American Flag, and the National Anthem.
You could ask that core to put the Buffalo Wild Wings and Hot Dogs aside to eat something healthier and they might try it. You could ask them to drink a Bud Light because there are fewer calories and less filling. You might even be able to convince them they need to trade in that Three Quarter Ton Pickup for something that is environmentally friendlier. But don’t dare disrespect the icons of Freedom they have saluted and believed in their entire lives.
After spending my entire career marketing some of the biggest brands in the world to some of the smallest brands I can tell you the NFL owners response should have been a well-crafted season-long campaign throughout all media on the position of NFL owners highlighting their sincere concern of fair treatment. It could have been a powerful intellectual marketing strategy that could have had a positive effect on the brand and their fans.
Now the NFL PR Crisis Management Team has its work cut out for them. They cannot undo what has been done.
I predict that the NFL in the next five years will no longer be the number one sports brand in the USA. It will lose billions of dollars from the media causing sales of merchandise and ticket sales to fall. The core customers will look for other sports brands to follow and the billionaire owners, multi-million dollar NFL players will feel the pain when they lose the public’s interest and respect. If the protest continues on week after week during the season the NFL brand will take more arrows to its heart and suffer permanent image scars.
The billion-dollar sports brand endorsements will find other sports and athletes to promote. Perhaps the MLB, NHL, NASCAR, Boxing, and maybe even my favorite, Lacrosse will find the hearts of those fans. It will be such a domino effect that the NFL PR Crisis Management Team will not be able to reverse it. The core customer will have made up their minds.
It is a shame that a three-minute speech by President Trump, who’s headlines from speeches and tweets has become the modern day National Inquirer, lured the owners of the NFL into reacting in such a way that it may very well cost them their franchises. They’ve committed the sin of all sins for any brand. Forgetting who their core customers are and will, unfortunately, pay for it. I love the game and looked forward to the NFL weekends, but I am afraid the season started it’s opening weekend setting in motion an epitaph that may redefine the NFL.
Jerry Glanville, who is famous for his colorful quotes, summed it up best as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons on the sidelines when he called out a referee after making a questionable call. “Hey, you know what the NFL stands for don’t you? Not For Long if you keep making bad calls like that.”